(plus 365 equals 9496)
This post [9131 days]
25 years [365 x 25 + 6 = 9131]
6 days for the leap years since 1985
Back in July of 1985, the God of the Universe saved me from the pit, saved my physical life, gave me a safe place to live and grow and a willingness to embrace life and to stay sober, no matter what. The first year and a half of staying sober was very difficult. Everyday I wanted to drink and every day, I asked this unknown power to help me many times a day and every night I got down on my knees and thanked this unknown power who was greater than me and greater than alcohol for another day of sobriety.
For some time, I have wanted to write this post and as I approach the day that will mark my 25th anniversary of sobriety, it seems an appropriate time. (I originally started writing this 14th of July 2010)
Expressions of gratitude
First of all, I thank the LORD, my God who is three persons in One God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gave me life and made it new.
The following individuals and groups have been a part of my pilgrimage. Some have come and gone and others have remained even though my journey looks different from their own. Regardless, I thank God for each and every one.
Fern Miller, professional therapist with love, compassion and straightforwardness, put me on the road to recovery. Another Fern RN who told me in so many words that life could be different. There were some other professionals who help me along the way but these two ladies had a significant impact. Joanne M. loved me and reached out to me when most people in my life at that point were just shaking their heads. Kathleen, loved me unconditionally, cared for me enough to give me tough love, a place to live and guidance. Kath was my first AA sponsor. Tommy Reardon former director of Granada House cared for me as if I was his own daughter. Everyone at Granada House in Brighton who was there from October 1985 to May 1986. My roommate there, Debbie B. Carla S., Lindsay W., Michael H., and Ma Shirley all loved me till I could love myself. Brookline Young People's group Saturday nights, Newton Acceptance Monday nights - these two AA groups were particularly instrumental in the first few years of my sobriety. Sarah, the first girl I sponsored. (and yes, she was a girl, 17 years old) The people who put on the sober dances, which really helped me, even if we did on occasion dance, like wild animals. Big Book Step Study (BBSS) groups, Lynnfield, Charlestown and Framingham meetings especially. Lisa H. was my BBSS sponsor, loved me and took me by the hand for the first 5 steps and walk beside me in the remaining 7 steps. Veronica, Lisa N, Jack the Marine, Eliza, Joe, Sue J., Marcie, and Cindy have all been blessings in my life. The Early Risers of the ARC in Marlborough. Thelma, Mo, Mary, Roger, Bob, Earl, Judy on almost any given morning of the week. AAW4 was my online women’s group that I was a member of for 8 years. Louise and Dolores were most encouraging. I also would like to thank my three children, Grace, Katie and Michael who have and still do love and accept me with all my imperfections. The person who has probably had the most influence on me in my adult life is my husband and best friend Dan, I love you Dan and I am grateful to be your beloved.
This year my son wrote and gave a persuasive speech about knowing and understanding people and how we don't take the time to understand that others are just as complicated as we are. Even though the topic of this post is my 25th anniversary of sobriety, in my acknowledgements I say that Dan has been the most influential person "in my adult life" instead of "in my sobriety." I, Catherine Mullaney, am more than a sober person; it is not even the first word about me. People don't belong in boxes, yet we put each other in them all the time. (and I know a thing or two about boxes. Free tip for those moving: Liquor boxes are in my opinion, one of the sturdiest boxes. [How’s that for irony?]) There will be more references to this line of thinking later in the post.
God put people in my life (stating the obvious at this point). In the fall of 1984, it started with Joanne M. who was one of my floor mates at UMass Amherst. She was there for the beginning of the end. I didn't think my life was really worth anything. At the time, I was pretty sure that I had covered all the entrances and exits to my heart, locked it up and threw away the keys. Joanne came in and disarmed me, loved me and helped me, even though I wasn't very cooperative or receptive. From there I had two rounds of long term in patient treatment and subsequent relapses.
July 29, 1985 in a hospital in Boston is where I found myself. Just 6 days earlier, I was on the Common probably overdressed for someone drinking out of a bottle. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between me and the drunk who had the night before slept on the Common. Through a series of events that day, I eventually landed in a hospital. On July 28th a couple of my fellow patients and I took a stroll out back and smoked a couple of joints, later that night we went to a meeting and it was there that I fessed up to this woman, Martha. I just told the truth and not unlike Jesus, she said, "well, what do you want to do?" "I want to live." was my reply. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to live. Martha told me that I needed to do whatever it takes to get clean and sober if I wanted to stay clean and sober. One needs to be alive in order to live and drinking and drugging for me was becoming more deadly every time. It took me a while to accept this. I wrestled with I am too young to be getting sober. My tolerance was still really high, my liver had only minimal damage and old timers would say things like, “I probably spilt more than you drank.”
This had been my third time in the space of 7 months of getting sober again. I did and it was hard. It was then that I began to understand how to ask for help. To admit that one is weak and powerless is humbling. It is not enough to ask for help, one also needs to take it. And now that I have been around a couple more decades, I realize that ALL human beings need help in some way or another. Those who do not want to admit this fact, I believe live lives of quiet desperation. Some people just don’t understand the joy of giving and receiving from one another.
One of the things that Martha told me to do was to get a sponsor. At one of the first meetings I went to after getting out of treatment, I asked Kathleen to be my sponsor. Basically, I did whatever she suggested in order for me to stay sober. When you are as desperate as the dying, you will do most anything to live. So, I became teachable. , something that I had not been for many years. It was hard to go up to Kath after the meeting and ask her to sponsor me and for her number. She only gave me one number, her home number. It took me a numbers of days to call her but once I was able to pick up the phone, I was calling her all the time. In the midst of the first few weeks, I realized that I was calling a whole lot and so I asked, “Are you going to get sick of me for calling so much?” And her answer made no sense to me at the time, “you are helping me more than I am helping you. So, no darlin’ I am not going to get sick of you. You can call me anytime of the day or night.” Eventually, I got to have her work number, which I stored, in a very unusual place – in my head. I knew her numbers by heart because I “dialed” them so often. In those early days, it was hard for me to go to a place that even served alcohol. When it was necessary to go to such an establishment, I would call before I went and then she would say, call me when you get home and so I would, unless, I decided to use the pay phone just outside the location when I was in attendance.
With Kathleen’s encouragement, I left home and went into a half way house, Granada House in Brighton (a neighborhood of Boston), MA. We were required to work full-time, pay rent, do chores, attend AA meetings every night, be a part of the “family” meeting once a week, etc. It was also one of the only co-ed houses of its kind in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the time. This is the place where my life made the necessary 180-degree turn.
It took a couple of months for me to realize how much I needed to be getting sober with other people. Of course, plenty of the people left, went out and got drunk or used drugs. Some of those people are dead from alcohol or drugs. But there was a core group that I went through the house with and we loved and supported one another. Spent lots of time together. This was a community of people who were looking for a foundation upon which to build new lives. I thank God for each person there who loved, showed and taught me how to forget about myself, trust God and to help others by the Grace of God.
(Granada House is also the location where I met Dan. There was a weekly meeting that outsiders were invited to attend and it was a 26-week commitment. It met on Wednesdays and I only thought about Dan on Wednesday nights when I saw him. Not long after everything would change between Dan and me.)
The first 3 years, I went to lots of meetings, got engaged to Dan, helped and was helped by people, did a couple of AWOLs (it is the meeting, 26 weeks where I met Dan. AWOL = A Way Of Life, based on the 12 steps of AA but is not an AA meeting), took service positions like making coffee, went to a couple of women’s conventions and to ICYPAA Miami and Boston.
Like I said at the beginning of the post, the first year and a half, I wanted to drink everyday. I frequently had very vivid drunk dreams. I was spinning my spiritual wheels and I was getting nowhere fast. Dan and I were dating and one of the things that attracted me to him was his confidence in which his God was. Quite often Dan asked, “Can I read something to you?” and instead of my usually sarcastic, “I am sure you are cable.” I said, “sure.” Nine times out of ten it was something out of the New Testament. The main thing going through my head while he was reading to me was, “that is fine for him but it is not for me.” One night after I had heaved verbal diarrhea concerning my religious training all over Dan, he asked if I wanted to accept Jesus and I said yes. I think that I was more surprised then Dan was.
Let me do my best to describe where I was spiritually upon getting sober. Walking into BYP Saturday night AA meeting there was a blue and gold banner hanging from the podium it read, “But for the Grace of God.” Upon reading this, I thought, “you have got to be kidding, I tried God and He was not interested in me.” Fortunately, Kathleen said you don’t need to believe in anything you don’t want to, just believe that I believe that there is a power greater than yourself who wants to help you stay sober. So, it began, I prayed to Kath’s Higher Power because I was willing to believe that she believed. Eventually, I came to believe that there is a power greater than me, but it wasn’t enough. As I said earlier, I was praying to the unknown god just like the folks in Athens that the Apostle Paul spoke to while on his journey to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. I was doing everything that I was told. I went to meetings, I called people, I sponsored people, I asked my Higher Power to keep me away from a drink and a drug for a day, and I was doing the steps. All of my efforts, I thought were keeping me sober but I had no peace, no purpose and I seemed to be going nowhere. At this time, I was also holding onto the foundational philosophy that had kept me drunk in the first place: selfishness – I believed and had no trouble saying out loud, “I can do anything I want except drink or drug.” Some people added onto that “as long as I don’t hurt another person.” Not me, I was so steeped in myself that I couldn’t even say that. Something had to change or I was going to drink again.
I was a year and a half sober the day Jesus Christ invaded my heart and it was in the dramatic fashion. For the next 2 weeks of continuing to ask God every day to keep me sober, I felt foolish; the desire to drink had been removed. God had kept me sober for 18 months. I said to a Christian friend in the program, I feel foolish asking God for a gift that He has already given me and I am not sure what to do about it. He wisely said, why don’t you pray about it. Well, I did and the answer came. Thank Him for the gift. In a sense, I had been thanking God everyday in my gratitude list (see my previous post on that) for my sobriety but now instead of asking Him for something I already had I thanked him and started to really turn my life and will over to God using the third step prayer from the book Alcoholics Anonymous:
“God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou Wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!’’
I would later discover that the simplest way to explain AA’s 12 steps is:
Trust God, Clean house (your internal house) and help others. The program is very much other centered. Look outside of yourself.
At 3 years sober I got married, at 4 years sober I had my daughter Grace, 2 years after that Katie and 17 months after that Michael was born. My world had enlarged and Jesus Christ became the foundation not only of my life, but the life I share with Dan and with our children.
In 1994 when Michael was about 15 months or so, a friend introduced me to Big Book Step Study (BBSS), which is simply AA groups that have returned to the original steps the way they are laid out in the Big Book and have purposed to find recovery by following the directions that are found in the book. So began my trek of going to these meetings. Regular AAers called BBSS AAers some choice names however, I found these people full of hope and good will.
Pretty quickly I asked Lisa to be my sponsor and I was on my way to becoming a real student of the book Alcoholics Anonymous affectionately known as the Big Book. It was not enough to just read and study, these are the clear-cut directions for getting and staying sober. The principles laid out here are biblical principles. Some AAers refuse to acknowledge this fact and deny AA history.
At this time, I was 8 years sober. I didn’t need to get sober but I certainly needed a more thorough house cleaning. Every human being carries around internal baggage and what we don’t realize is we can get rid of some of it. Even with a very thorough cleansing, I think it is next to impossible to get rid of it all, but the LORD is willing to help us carry that which we cannot unload. We are never “cured” of our sin nature. People do recover from alcoholism but we walk around with fears, maladies, lies, and self-centeredness. We need to be pulled out of it daily. Not just God’s Grace but His mercy enables me to come to the table and say have Your way with me Lord. Help me to stay out of the way so that You can work through me today. I do believe that it will all be laid to rest when we are.
And as we say in BBSS, “my name is Catherine, I am a recovered alcoholic and I have actual experience with these steps as they are laid out in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Even though, it is now a rare thing that I go to meetings, I still practice these principles and in essence I trust and rely upon God, I do my best to keep short accounts and I do my best to be helpful to all kinds of people not just alcoholics.
For many years I continued to attend meetings while realizing that my identity should not be wrapped up in my sin. When we say, “I am [insert whatever you want here]”, I believe that we are taking on an identity. Don’t get me wrong, I am alcoholic which is very different from saying, I am an alcoholic. I am sober and alcohol doesn’t agree with me. Some say alcoholism is a disease and I can agree with that, but I also believe that it started with sin. People with cancer don’t say, I am a cancer. Cancer is something you have just like alcoholism is something I have. It does not define a person. Yet, it is one of those things that in modern AA pounds into your head, actually, it is suggested and in some meetings required that you pound it into your own head, “I am an alcoholic.”
The First word about me and about every other human being who walks this earth is “created in the Image of God.” Every human being is an Image Bearer. Most people who struggle with alcoholism struggle with their identity. I know that I did. Remember the Breakfast Club, who am I? WHO am I? who AM I????? So the first 3 years of being sober, I actually enjoyed having an identity. It didn’t bother me in the least to say, “I am an alcoholic.” I didn’t need to be ashamed because I was a sober alcoholic.
In the AA Literature it says that we get sober in order to return to a normal way of living. Guess what? I would never say that my life has ever been normal. Normal is 98.6. However, I was given a life to live. By the Grace of God I got sober and by the grace of God I was given New Life in Christ. Life is not meant to be lived alone. God gave me a wonderful husband and then 3 beautiful children who are now three beautiful young adults, both inside and out. With the risk of sounding religious or southern (same difference right? And no offense to my religious and southern friends), I am blessed. Even though I don’t consider my life normal, I did take part in creating a home for my family and we have had a somewhat traditional look about us. A man of great influence on the early days of AA, Sam Shoemaker might say that I have an ordinary life that I am living extraordinarily.
Dan and I made two major decisions, the first was that I would stay home and raise our children and the second was to educate our children at home. To say that my priorities changed would be an understatement. Early on I learned that for every one yes we say to something, we on average have to say nine no’s. Our children have been to AA meetings but I do not believe that they were meant to be raised in them, so their time there was limited. In fact, when I celebrated my 20th year of sobriety my kids wrote 20 reasons why they are grateful to have a mother who is sober.
Alcohol is just not a part of our lives and we go to parties, weddings, funerals and dinners where alcohol is served. Dan and I just don’t drink it and thankfully, I have never made it my business to tell others what they should and should not drink. Our family is in the stream of life.
AA has taught me to be brutally honest; the Holy Spirit leads me to be discerning and gentler with the truth and I am still learning how to be gentler. AA has taught me to be of service; Jesus shows me how to be of maximum service. AA has taught me how to live in community and my Heavenly Father has made me a part of His Family and His Kingdom and He desires for us to have unity. AA taught me how to humble myself and the Word of God says, “When you are weak, He [God] is strong.” and "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
AA is a spiritual program and one of the founders, Bill W. also said that AA is a spiritual kindergarten. The primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. The focus is on the newcomer. Women who choose to stay at home and raise a family after being sober for a number of years have a tough go of it. There was a morning women’s meeting that I went to when my kids were very small. We had babysitting. The meeting didn’t last too long, a couple of years. I think it is difficult to accommodate for two priorities at once.
My primary responsibility as a parent became to lovingly raise, consistently train and diligently educate my children. I needed to pour myself into them and I needed encouragement, ideas and how to’s in parenting. AA doesn’t really lend itself to that and for the most part is geared toward individuals. AA is still around because it has stuck to its primary purpose. I continued to go to meetings and help others when I could but bringing three children into the world has been the greatest responsibility that I have ever been given. Dan and I have parented together. It did not all fall on my shoulders. If it had I probably would have stopped going to meetings in the early 90’s and I never would have made it to BBSS.
In the AA big book it says that we have to be willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles that are found in the 12 steps and 12 traditions can be traced back to a Christian Group, The Oxford Group. Just like any other activity, if the veterans are not challenged because the rookies are always being trained and a group of veterans are not working constantly with the rookies for one reason or another there is a stagnancy in the growth and develop of those vets. Something needs to happen. There are many mottos in AA and one is “grow or go.” At some point I needed to go in order to grow.
So my journey has taken a different turn and the past 5 years have been wonderful and painful. Being sober for x amount of years does not mean that pain, suffering and sorrow will not happen. Those who have many years of sobriety still struggle and it is not only OK, it is perfectly human. Hopefully, by growing spiritually we handle the heartaches of life with more grace, more willingness to help others and a greater sense of dependence on God.
Gratitude is probably one of the most important element for sober living and I believe that no matter what our circumstances we can always find things to be grateful for in this life.
Will I ever go back to meetings? I don’t know. I leave the door open. I am grateful to be alive and sober. My name is Catherine Mullaney and I am a child of the Living God and a sinner saved by grace who also happens to have been sober for 9131 days in a row.
Today is a full year since I wrote and set out to post this blog and now it has been 9496 days in a row, sober. This year has been a year of great spiritual growth. I am SO grateful for so many gifts that God has given me and one of the greatest gifts is today. We have AA literature in our house and we keep the 24 hour a day book in the bathroom. Today's reading said that there are two days that we have no business worrying about one is yesterday and I imagine tomorrow's read will address the other day. So, I have a full day ahead of me and so grateful to be an active participant in life.
Spiritual growth happens in the context of community. Dan and I have become a part of a community of believers who meet at Bethlehem Bible Church. We are very grateful for the new people in our lives who have welcomed us with open arms. Right here I could start a whole new list of acknowledgements but I will save it for another day. The point is that I believe the greatest spiritual growth occurs in the context of community. In the New Testament book of 1st Corinthians it talks about Paul planting and Apollos watering but God gives the growth. God chooses to use other people in our lives. God is SO faithful and throughout the years continues to put people in our lives to grow us up in Him.
Today I am grateful to have been made alive in Christ for I was dead in my sins, that I have a new identity in Christ, that Christ Jesus lived the perfect life, died the perfect death and rose from the dead, in order to give me Eternal Life, for His Glory and not my own.
Pax Vobiscum! CM